No one is safe from breast cancer, not even the wife of a SouthCoast Health physician.
As the face of Savannah’s 2017 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Bernice Watson’s journey through breast cancer is inspiring all of those who are running, including SouthCoast Health's staff, family, and friends. Bernice, a local special education teacher, also happens to be the wife of Dr. Benjamin Watson, an internal medicine doctor at SouthCoast Health. Before her diagnosis, Bernice rarely got sick. She was always on top of her health and kept up her yearly appointments.
On October 27, 2016, all of that changed. Bernice went to her regular OBGYN to have an annual checkup. Unfortunately, nothing was regular about this appointment. Her doctor found an unusually shaped lump in her left breast. It was evident that she needed a mammogram to get a view of the lump. It was late in the day and the imaging center was about to close, that’s when her husband’s nurse, Dianna Flagella, made an important call and was able to schedule Bernice for a diagnostic mammogram after hours at SouthCoast Health Imaging, a place Bernice knew she could trust. The mammogram revealed the suspicious lump and a biopsy was scheduled. When the biopsy results were in, SouthCoast Health radiologist Dr. Andrew Wade delivered the unfortunate news that the lump was cancerous.
From there, Bernice says it was all a blur.
Despite this fog caused by the heavy mental load of dealing with a cancer diagnosis, Bernice can still remember clearly the thoughtful, high-quality nature of the care she received at SouthCoast Health. SouthCoast Health surgeon Dr. Jeff Mandel worked with and supported her through the decision to undergo a lumpectomy, rather than a mastectomy. Bernice also recounts the support she felt from her general practitioner, Dr. Adam Novack, and the entire SouthCoast Health staff as she underwent months of radiation treatment.
“It’s pretty incredible how supportive the medical community has been, from the receptionists to all the technicians to the team of doctors,” said Bernice. “I have been given such personal care and feel confident the treatment they've designed is what I need to be cured. SouthCoast Health has been an incredible support system."
Of course, Bernice’s husband Dr. Benjamin Watson was also by her side her every step of the way. While Dr. Watson’s medical experience put Bernice at ease, she believes his intimate knowledge of the fight that lay ahead made the diagnosis more difficult for him.
"I actually think his medical background made the process harder on him since he knows more about the disease and what it can do,” explained Bernice. “At the same time, it was more comforting to me because he helped manage it all and allayed my fears. It’s interesting to be married to a doctor and to go through this. It rocks your world differently.”
Despite these difficulties, Bernice never let her diagnosis take over her life. As an award-winning teacher and school leader at The STEM Academy, an accelerated middle school, Bernice refused to miss a day of work. She was successful in this endeavor, even with thirty total radiation treatments, an effort that did not go unnoticed. On March 31, The STEM Academy dedicated a day of fundraising and wearing pink to honor Bernice’s commitment to her students and her courage in the fight against breast cancer.
In the same spirit, those planning to participate in the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure will not only be supporting everyone who has gone through breast cancer, but they will also be supporting Bernice and her story. To Bernice, it’s support like this that got her through this challenging time. Her family, her co-workers, and her friends created an incredible support system that helped her tremendously.
“When you go through something like this, it really changes your identity,” Bernice said. “It’s not anything I would have thought of before October 27 of 2016. You learn so much about yourself through adversity. When you are faced with a medical issue, it really forces your perspective to change.”
On February 9, 2017, Bernice completed her treatments. However, a breast cancer diagnosis is certainly a life long journey. Bernice still sees her doctors at SouthCoast Health regularly for follow-up appointments to keep an eye on her recovering body.
If you would like to learn more about the Susan G. Komen Race For The Cure or get involved with Bernice Watson’s “Watson’s Warriors for a Cure,” click here. We hope to see you there supporting Bernice, the SouthCoast Health runners, and all those effected by breast cancer in our community.